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CBS hit with $550K Super Bowl fine
FCC imposes $27,500 on each of 20 CBS-owned affiliates that showed broadcast of half-time show.
September 22, 2004: 2:35 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Viacom Inc. was hit with $550,000 in fines for the Super Bowl half-time show in February that briefly showed singer Janet Jackson's breast. The fine is one of the largest ever imposed by the Federal Communications Commission.

The Super Bowl halftime show that showed Janet Jackson's breast resulted in a $550,000 fine against CBS by the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday.  
The Super Bowl halftime show that showed Janet Jackson's breast resulted in a $550,000 fine against CBS by the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday.

The maximum $27,500 fine was levied on the 20 CBS affiliates that are owned by the network. Affiliates with separate owners were spared the fine.

"No television event has ever received as many complaints from the American public -- over 540,000 -- as the Super Bowl XXXVIII half-time show produced by CBS," said a statement from FCC Chairman Michael Powell. "Indecency determinations, however, must be made cautiously and with appropriate restraint."

CBS, whose executives had earlier vowed to fight a fine, would only say Wednesday that it was reviewing options regarding an appeal.

"We are extremely disappointed in the ruling," said a statement from the network. "While we regret that the incident occurred and have apologized to our viewers, we continue to believe that nothing in the Super Bowl broadcast violated indecency laws. Furthermore, our investigation proved that no one in our company had any advance knowledge about the incident."

Two members of the five-member commission objected to the fine as too lenient, saying that even the affiliates not owned by CBS should have been subject to fines. One member objected that the commission paid little attention to and imposed no fines on other aspects of the half-time show, which many viewers complained was lewd and inappropriate.

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"After all the bold talk, it's a slap on the wrist that can be paid with just 7.5 seconds of Super Bowl ad time," said a dissent from FCC member Jonathan Adelstein. "This decision sets a puzzling precedent by failing to hold all licensees responsible for the material broadcast over their stations. Why announce such a thorough investigation, if we just let some of the stations that broadcast this material completely off the hook?"

But another FCC member, Kevin Martin, blamed the FCC for not clarifying the ability of affiliates to reject broadcasts of their networks that they deem indecent.

Janet Jackson
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

"We need to affirm local broadcasters' ability -- and responsibility -- to reject inappropriate programming," he said. "This obligation is critical to local broadcasters' ability to keep coarser network programming off the air in their communities. The network affiliates asked us to clarify this right over three years ago. We still have not acted."

CBS and Viacom's cable television unit MTV, which produced the show, blamed the exposing of Jackson's breast on a "wardrobe malfunction." Justin Timberlake, the other singer in the number, was supposed to rip off her outer garment but leave her breast covered.  Top of page

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